Listening to the recent “Life Metal”, idolized and recommended by music critics, proved to be a valid opportunity to take a closer look at the metal world created by Sunn O))).
“Life Metal” is the new chapter in their musical saga, or maybe I should say the last metallic rune, a wrinkle characterized this time by Steve Albini’s production that has made available his own very personal approach in favor of an even fuller, richer and evolved sound. A sound that expresses itself in an inexorable slowness, a slowness almost tensed up to the passion, a smug and languid slowness in its implacable background noise which is its intimate reason. It reminds me of Andy Warhol’s films, slow, eternal, dilated to the impossible, where every tiny, small variation is greeted with enthusiasm, like a sign of life taken up by a fixed camera on the opaque and desert horizon of the Moon. Which is not necessarily bad. Listening to the Sunn O))), compared to the irrepressible and hyperkinetic heaviness of pop and today’s trap, is almost comforting. It requires a composed, immobile, with closed eyes listening. An attentive search to variation, to the expectation of the next plectrum stroke from top to bottom. Waiting for the next distorted wave, the next frothy and black lapping. Almost an island of peace, far from the continuous solicitations of the social media, of the fashionable low cost pop, away from work competition. Surrendering to these swirls of distorted sonic smoke is not easy. Monolithic. Excessive. Wordy. These are their faults. Their drones cannot be compared to the refined chiselling lens of Phil Niblock. Their ideas are monolithic. Their sound, decidedly opulent. A maximalist sound, but far away from the orchestral energy of the hundreds of electric guitars organized by Rhys Chatham and from the tonal energy wells of the electric masses unleashed by Glenn Branca.
Their noise, their noise expands through surf waves gifted with a compact, dark and inexorable mass. But be careful: this slowness is not for everyone. It risks triggering boredom and nervousness. If doom metal was born to express a cathartic desolation, their goal was reached 100%. Sunn O))), however, reaches an almost baroque heaviness. Their distorted guitars, their amplifiers open to maximum volume represent a voluptuousness already seen in the baroque folds of so many rococo furnitures. A desolate surface folded over and over again over itself. Swirls of thick smoke that rise up, bend in slow ellipses and then fold and fall, almost gracefully, to the ground.
“Black Sun” is a black sun that slowly rises over the horizon. A leaden sun is the metallic, sonorous heaviness it can express. Sunn O))) are joined by another drones expert, Oren Ambarchi who does not miss his rigorous support.
I found the insertion of wind instruments (including the trumpet of the jazz musician Cuong Vu) into the music of “Monoliths & Dimensions” simply amazing. The wall composed by trombones, horn, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet and flute in Alice fits in a millimetric way to the corresponding wall formed by the electric guitars of O’Malley and Oren Ambarchi with the arrangements firmly in the hands of Eyvind Kang who also plays in the record his viola and which is not alien in appearances on the records of John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Secret Chiefs 3, ect. Not only metal, therefore, but also an attentive ear to the solutions proposed by contemporary music.
I can’t stand the voices of “Black Sun”, “Monoliths & Dimension” and “Life Metal”, I don’t feel their need. They are useless appendices that add nothing. Their chanting reminds of a faded version of the readings taken from an unlikely Necronomicon’s metal version. These guys are very good. Good graphics, friars’ clothes, almost religious immobility during concerts. Around them an almost Lovercraftian musical cult. Everything sounds like a construct inhabited by an unshakable certainty, from an unshakable and inviolable doom metal faith. The graphics of the CDs are perfect, the result of careful work where you can feel the obsession for details and a maniacal perfectionism. Here is the graphic. Life Metal expresses an evolution. The cover of the cd expresses a chromatic fog that seems to be elaborated by a Turner under the mescaline’s effect. A leap forward compared to the rigorous and rigid black and white monotony of the previous records, as Steve Albini’s production is a leap forward too, which was able to infuse greater energy and fullness into their sound. Sunn O))) know how to play with a whole series of gothic, neo-gothic, fake gothic aesthetic references, fishing with both hands from a graphic and literary tradition that has its roots in the stories of Mary Shelley, in the ghosts of Karen Blixen, in Lovercraft’s weirdness. They were good. They believed it. A personal sound pantheon has been created by digging and giving life to a musical genre that is not prone to thematic innovations. Try them.